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Clout: City Commission fights 'fact-finding team'

THE CITY COMMISSION, which oversees elections in Philadelphia, is refusing to cooperate with a "fact-finding team" appointed by Mayor Nutter last month to examine problems in the Nov. 6 general election.

City Commission candidate Stephanie Singer says thousands lack IDs.
City Commission candidate Stephanie Singer says thousands lack IDs.Read more

THE CITY COMMISSION, which oversees elections in Philadelphia, is refusing to cooperate with a "fact-finding team" appointed by Mayor Nutter last month to examine problems in the Nov. 6 general election.

Nutter's support in 2008 for eliminating "row offices" like the City Commission seems to have helped spark suspicions about his intentions now.

The three elected commissioners sent Nutter a letter last week, citing "growing concerns about the integrity of the fact-finding process and the value of its eventual recommendations."

They complained about being shut out of the process. So now they will boycott the effort.

Al Schmidt, vice chairman of the commission, has three concerns about Nutter's team, which is examining why 27,000 voters had to use provisional ballots in the November election.

Five of the six team members work for Nutter, including city Managing Director Rich Negrin.

None of the members has experience running elections in the city.

And there are no Republicans, noted Schmidt, the lone Republican on the City Commission.

Asked if he was suspicious that Nutter would use Election Day problems to push for eliminating the commission, Schmidt said it was "certainly curious" that the mayor supported that before.

"We don't know his mind," Schmidt said of Nutter. "We do know that was a position he held some years ago."

Nutter, in the first year as mayor, floated the idea of changing the city's Home Rule Charter to eliminate row offices such as the commission, the Register of Wills and the Sheriff's Office.

Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald said Everett Gillison, the mayor's chief of staff, will speak with the commission's chairman, Anthony Clark, about the letter. McDonald said Nutter wants to be sure his team's role is not "mischaracterized."

"The task force was called to deal with issues that arose on Election Day," McDonald said. "That is the focus of its work. And that's all the focus is."

Cheri's day in court

The 2012 presidential election is in the history books. but there's still a bit of related business to attend to Friday morning in Municipal Court.

Cheri Honkala, the local housing activist who ran for vice president last year on the Green Party ticket, will stand trial on trespassing charges at 9 a.m. with her running mate, Jill Stein, and two other activists.

Honkala, Stein, Jim Moran and John Phillips were arrested in August after refusing to leave the regional headquarters of Fannie Mae, the biggest home-mortgage lender in the country.

We pulled Honkala's rap sheet, which has plenty of arrests from protests but only one conviction - from a 1996 protest when she blocked the view from the street of the Liberty Bell.

Honkala fights on, although she says arrests are getting scarier as time goes on because of the cost and impact on her work.

"I can't really afford probation," she said. "My whole life is about traveling. Hopefully the judge will understand that we're trying to prevent a greater harm and we'll be found not guilty. If not, I'm prepared to go to jail."

The Green Party, with Stein at the top of the ticket, won 464,510 votes after getting on the ballot in 37 states and Washington, D.C. That was 0.36 percent of the vote.

Mandel bulldogs himself

Many political figures Google themselves to keep current on the electronic chatter about them.

Now local politicians must "bulldog" themselves as well.

They can thank Brett Mandel, a candidate in the May 21 Democratic primary election for city controller. Mandel this week unveiled his "Bulldog Budget" website, which allows users to scroll through the fine detail of the city's fiscal year 2012 spending.

To test the website, Mandel plugged his own name into its search engine. He got six hits for items labeled "Mandel litigation," for a grand total of $91,544.

That's the amount the city paid a law firm to fight a lawsuit Mandel led in 2011, claiming the city's property-tax system was unfair.

A judge rejected the lawsuit, saying Mandel and his fellow plaintiffs didn't have "standing" to sue the city on the issue.

Mandel's website has a way of drawing in people, leading one person to tell him via Twitter that he was responsible for "zero productivity" in City Hall this week as pols and staffers roamed through the digitized budget.